1. Apple cultivation and processing in the Kashmir region: Horticulture and post processing facilities have become the focus of the present Government in the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region for social development. However, terrain and climate change issues remain challenging. Ramneek Kaur, a social activist working with pastoral tribes like Gujjar- Bakharwals notes that many of them lease land to grow apples but their lack of understanding horticultural nuances together with climatic catastrophes yields lower-grade apples or often loss of the entire crop. George Watts in his magnum opus The Economic Products of India (1890) notes, “.. some years ago, the Maharaja of Kashmir made an attempt to start the manufacture of cider in his territory. He obtained the services of a European for the purpose, but the experiment appears to have been unsuccessful.” However, in recent years, Kashmiri apple cider has gained momentum among home grown brands.
2. A brief history of the apple industry in Himachal: On 12th March 1838, a box of four apples arrived at the Secretariat of the Horticultural Society of India. The Secretary noted, “all those who saw and tasted the fruit thought them to be equal in beauty and flavor to any they had tasted in England.” Grown from English grafts, they were planted in 1824 in the garden of Mr Jeffery Finch in Tirhoot, bearing the first fruits in 1836. A decade later, the Treaty of Lahore brought Kullu under British control, frequented by British officers escaping the hot plains. Meanwhile, Rev.Beutel, a German missionary developed the first Kotgarh Mission Orchard. In 1870, Captain R C Lee, a retired British official, set up an apple orchard in Banderole with plants obtained from England and soon many others established orchards in the region, setting an apple industry in motion. In Shimla, the first orchard was planted in 1887 in Mashobra, now owned by the Government and primarily functions as a research center. In 1921, Samuel Evans Stokes obtained a sapling of Golden Delicious from the Stark Brothers Nursery in Louisiana and propagated it at his orchard, Harmony Hall. By 1929, he could market the apples under the “HH Brand” with resounding success. Stokes’ humanistic approach in establishing commercial orchards had a lasting effect on Kotgarh. His approach was sustainable and socially responsible long before these words became a corporate staple.
3. History of Apple cultivation in the Deccan region: The Khazan wa-Babur, a gardening manual from Deccan during the reign of Nizam Ali from 1790 outlines advice on landscaping and growing fruit trees. For bright red apples, the author recommends pegging down the lower branches with an iron bar. By 1860, R Flower Riddell, Surgeon General to the Nizam of Hyderabad wrote in the Indian domestic economy and receipt book, “In the Deccan, I have met with two sorts, like the brown russet, and a yellow striped pippin. These trees only bear but once a year and require the same treatment as the Persian apple.”
Apples grown on the higher altitudes of the Deccan plateau remained available locally – they were small, sour-sweet and certainly lacked the famed charm of Kashmir’s temperate fruit.
4. Apple Cultivation in the Colonial Era: Horticulture became a priority in the colonial agenda and apple cultivation has been written about widely during this period. In 1938, The Punjab Fruit Journal offered recommendations for apple cultivation in commercial orchards in Simla Hills. The author, S. Blake suggests varieties such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Peck’s Pleasant for apples that keep a long shelf life from harvest in fall until Christmas and even unto March noting “Varieties such as Lady Sudeley and Red Astrachan are fine table apples but keep for about 6 weeks and should be sold before they lose their crispness and flavour.”
Another chapter in the Journal suggests, “Cleft grafting is used in order to improve or renovate old trees. The tree is headed back to a few limbs in which clefts are made and graft wood from desirable trees inserted into them. The union is covered with grafting wax and the cleft is bandaged.”